As you get older you experience more aches and pains because your bones and ligaments are aging, too. Sometimes a certain ache becomes worse, and you need to go to the doctor to find out what is causing it. Lumbar spinal stenosis is a type of a lower back condition that can occur as you age.
What is lumbar spinal stenosis?
Stenosis means “narrowing,” and lumbar spinal stenosis means narrowing of the spinal canal in the lower back. This narrowing often means unwanted pressure is applied to the spinal cord and the nerves that run through it.
When you have lumbar spinal stenosis, you may experience one or more of the following symptoms in your lower back, buttocks, and/or legs:
- burning pain
- aching pain
- worse pain when standing straight or walking
- numbness or tingling
- In advanced cases you may also experience “foot drop,” which feels like your foot is slapping against the ground as you walk.
The most common cause of lumbar spinal stenosis is arthritis. The discs in the spine age, dry out and degenerate, causing settled or collapsed discs. This can result in a narrowed spinal canal. The cartilage surrounding the discs may also wear out. The body responds to this lack of material by growing new bone called spurs. The spurs can narrow the space where the nerves run through. The body might react to the arthritis by growing larger-sized ligaments around the degenerating bones. This also narrows the canal. As soon as the canal is narrow enough to irritate the nerves running through it, you will feel pain.
Osteoporosis is a less common cause of lumbar spinal stenosis.
- Pain medicine, exercise, and physical therapy are often recommended for mild to moderate cases of lumbar spinal stenosis. Your doctor may also recommend a shot of corticosteroids to reduce inflammation.
- Severe cases may need surgery. There are two types of surgeries to treat lumbar spinal stenosis.
- Laminectomy. The doctor removes ligaments and bone that are narrowing the spinal canal.
- Spinal Fusion. To stabilize the bones in the spine, a doctor will perform some decompression (removing ligaments and bone) and some fusion (joining vertebrae together).
Because this is a disease usually caused by arthritis and aging, not much can be done to prevent it. If you are experiencing unrelieved back pain or have been diagnosed with lumbar spinal stenosis and would like to meet with one of our spine specialists, contact Hampton Roads Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine for an appointment.